“Once upon a time,” Aunt Abby started.
“Oh, it’s a western!” Ellie said.
“Aunt Abby?” Jules said. “Can we have a story were Bruce doesn’t push Ellie?”
Aunt Abby cupped Jules’ face in her hands, her rings sparkling in the sunlight, and kissed her forehead. “Julie-bear, I love you so very much.”
“I love you too but can you tell us a different story?”
“Yes, Julie, I’ll tell you a different story with no pushing in it.”
“Do you love me too?” Joshua asked.
“Of course I love you, too,” Aunt Abby said planting a kiss on the top of his head.
A chorus of “Me too, me too, Aunt Abby?” filled the warm Texas air. Starting at the top, with Bruce who was the tallest, and working her way down to Jude who was the youngest, Aunt Abby kissed each of her seven nephews and nieces on the head. Then she had to repeat it with five of them because Julie and Joshua had now had two kisses.
“Now, can we start the story?” Aunt Abby asked once every cousin was kissed an equal amount and resettled on an Auntie Janet’s quilt.
“Yes!” Ellie said tapping the toes of her boots together. “I want to hear another western!”
Constance, her pockets full of rocks that tinkled together as she snuggled in beside Jules, nodded in agreement. Joshua and Bruce set their cars, trains, and planes in their laps while Jude stuck his in his mouth. Imogene dropped down in Aunt Abby’s lap beside Jude waiting for the story to start.
Once upon a time, three growing cowboys, and three pretty cowgirls, (“With pink boots?” asked Jules. “With pink boots,” Aunt Abby agreed. “What color are our boots?” Bruce asked. Jude growled in agreement. “You’re boots are brown and black like dirt and Texas clay,” Aunt Abby said. “But now we have to start over.”)
Once upon a time, seven cousins, three cowboys and four cowgirls, spent several happy days at Grammie and Grandpa’s little ranch with Clyde the Donkey and Hobbes the golden Lab. They arrived every October from all over the country just as the Texas days grew shorter, and a crispness filled the early morning air before the sun warmed the earth. After a big breakfast of fruit and pancakes doused in real maple syrup from Grammie’s homeland of Vermont, the cousins bounded outside, their boots clopping across the porch.
Hobbes greeted them with a wag of his golden tail receiving many pats on the heads as he licked the remains of breakfast from the easy to reach faces.
“We should go tell Clyde good morning, so he doesn’t feel left out,” Constance said.
“What about Jude?” Imogene said, the sun glinting in her red hair. “He can’t crawl out there?”
“I’ll take him into Grammie,” Jules said.
The others tumbled out into the yard to inspect Grammie’s pumpkin patch while they waited on Jules. Constance checked under the big green leaves for signs of the fairy folk her Mommy always read to her about. Bruce and Joshua ran after a late sunning lizard until he escaped under the porch, while Ellie and Imogene chased the flock of blackbirds away from the birdfeeder. Jules returned and the cousins tramped out into the high grass to say hi to Clyde the donkey. Birds chased one another through the air. They called back and forth in greeting. Bugs leapt through the deep grass ahead of the cousins. A snail, minding his own business, glided across a rock resting in their path.
“Oh! A snail! He’s so cute!” Constance said stopping.
She picked up the little snail by his shell. He retreated into his hard home shutting the door behind him. Constance lifted him to eye level while everyone gathered around her. After a moment, he opened the door and looked out examining her through his eye-stocks.
“What’s that?” Imogene asked, resting her head on Constance’s shoulder.
“It’s a snail,” said Ellie joining them.
“Isn’t he cute?” Constance said holding him out for them to see.
“He is really cute, Constance,” Jules said emphatically.
Bruce threw up his hands. “Why do girls think everything is cute? They even think cars are cute.”
“I don’t know,” Joshua said shaking his head.
“Do you think it’s cute?” Bruce asked.
“Nope,” Joshua said wiping his nose with the back of his hand. “And I don’t think cars are cute neither.”
Jules gasped. “You don’t think it’s cute?”
“Nope,” Bruce and Joshua said together.
“I bet Jude would think it’s cute,” Constance said.
“No he wouldn’t,” Bruce said.
“Let’s go ask him!” Ellie said.
The six cousins tramped into the house in their cowboy and cowgirl boots. They found Jude with a train in one hand and a box of raisins in the other. Everyone eyed the box of raisins, the snail and the argument momentarily forgotten. Jude dumped them out on the table. He carefully picked up a raisin between his finger and his thumb and popped it in his mouth.
“Grandpa!” Bruce yelled. “Can I have some raisins?”
(“Only Grandpa has raisins,” Bruce said. “Grammie doesn’t seem to know where he keeps them.” “Do you have raisins, Aunt Abby?” Imogene asked. “Nope, only Grandpa has raisins.” “Can we go ask him for some,” Ellie said. “Shhh,” Jules hushed them all. “First we want to hear about the snail!” “Yes, does Jude think it’s cute?” Constance asked. “Well, let’s find out,” Aunt Abby said. “Then raisins?” Joshua said. “Yes, then raisins,” Aunt Abby said.)
The boys darted off to find Grandpa while the girls approached Jude.
“Look Jude, it’s a snail,” Constance said, holding it out to him.
“Isn’t he cuuuute?” crooned Imogene.
Jude examined his four cousins with large eyes. Pop! He stuck a raisin in his mouth. The snail wiggled its eye-stocks at Jude. Pop! In went another raisin.
“Jude?” Constance sang his name. She moved the snail closer making Jude go cross-eyed. Reaching out with his finger and his thumb, Jude picked up another raisin and offered it to the snail. Constance pulled the little creature away. The snail shrank back up into his shell.
“Snail’s don’t eat raisins,” Jules said.
“No, but cousins eat raisins,” Grandpa said coming out of his office with the two boys in tow and extra boxes of raisins for the girls. “You better take that snail back outside where he belongs.”
“But I want to keep this snail!” Constance said wrapping her other hand protectively around the small creature.
“He’s our snail,” Ellie said.
“And he’s cute. We want to keep the cute ones,” Imogene said.
“Grandpa?” Bruce said digging in his own raisin box. “Why do girls think everything is cute?”
“Yeah, even cars and trains?” Joshua added
“Cause they are!” Jules said.
“Yes Mr. Snail,” Constance said whispering into her hands. “We think you’re very cute.”
Grammie came over to see what the fuss was about. Grandpa explained the question scratching at his white beard. Grammie put her hands on her hips and studied her seven grandchildren. Her glance moved from Jules’ flowing hair, Constance’s golden curls, Ellie’s pony-tales, and Imogene’s red head, to Bruce’s big blue eyes, Joshua’s brown, and Jude carefully picking up his raisins. She bent down until she was eye to eye with them.
“Well that’s easy,” Grammie said. “They think everything’s cute because they’re girls. And girls aren’t like boys.”
“Why not?” Joshua said.
“Because God decided boys need girls.”
“Why?” Bruce said.
“Well,” Grandpa said. “Without girls, nothing in the world would be cute. And that would be sad.”
Bruce and Joshua tilted their heads and examined their girl cousins.
“You mean without girls there wouldn’t be pink?” Bruce said.
“And so much more than that,” Grammie said straightening up. “You see God made boys and girls very different. And girls like pretty things. They like cute things. They like to make the world around them prettier. It’s called being feminine.”
Joshua screwed up his face and tried to say the big word. Grammie helped him sound it out.
“Yes, remember our talk, Bruce, about being the defenders?” Grandpa asked.
Bruce nodded his mouth full of raisins.
“Well, just like boys are defenders, girls are homemakers. They give us a place and people to defend. Without them, we would have nothing to defend. We would be very lonely.”
“And dirty,” Grammie added.
“Are girls special?” Jules asked.
“Yes they are,” Grammie said kissing Jules on the head. “And they must be very strong, because making a home, a place for boys is very hard sometimes.”
“Cause their dirty?” Jules said.
Grammie laughed and laughed. None of the cousins understood why this was so funny.
“Yes,” Grandpa said, also laughing.
“Now,” Grammie said. “Why don’t you go take that snail out to the pumpkin patch and build him a house? The boys can make the defenses and the girls can make it pretty.”
“What if I want to help with the defenses?” Ellie said.
“And what if I find flowers?” Joshua said.
Grandpa bent over. “That’s the beauty of it. The girls can help the boys with the defenses, because they see things boys don’t see. And the boys can bring home flowers, because they like to help the girls. You can work together because you are different. If you were the same, you would have bad defenses and an ugly house. If you work with your differences you can have a beautiful and well guarded home.”
“An adventure!” shouted Ellie.
“A fairy-tale!” said Constance.
“Will there be dragons to defend against?” asked Joshua with serious brown eyes.
“Do snails like cars?” Bruce added.
“Well go find out!” Grammie said herding the children out the door.
The cousins tramped out leaving Jude behind to eat his raisins. They hunted high and low for the best place for the snail home. Bruce and Joshua designed traps and Ellie covered them with flowers and leaves so they would stay hidden. They built the snail a little house with high walls and a leaf for a roof. Joshua and Bruce ran all over the pasture gathering the prettiest of flowers for the girls to use. All day they worked on the snail home. Grammie brought them a picnic so they could keep working, but she warned them that they’d have to come in for dinner. The sun set and the six cousins said good-bye to the cute little snail. Constance said good-bye last giving him a little kiss on his shell.
The sun set over the little Texas ranch as seven cousins took their baths. The big Texas sky filled with stars as they gathered around Grammie and Grandpa for their bedtime stories. The big Texas moon rose as they all went to bed.
Bright and early the next morning, they rushed outside to see if the snail still liked the home they built him. Constance lifted the leaf off the little house of sticks and stones. Deep inside the snail sat. He reached out with his eye-stocks looking at the happy faces above him.
“The end,” Aunt Abby said.
“Yea!” Jules cheered. “I’m so glad we built a house.”
“Me too!” Constance said.
“And I’m glad God made both boys and girls,” Aunt Abby said ruffling Jude’s hair.
“Me too,” said Imogene.
The sun sparkled on bright eyes and glinted in wild hair. The cousins leapt to their feet and raced through the tall Texas grass.
“Can we have another western?” Ellie called.
“Soon enough, soon enough,” Aunt Abby said.
“Grandpa?” yelled Bruce towards the house. “We want some raisins.”